Corruption between the U of M, a foundation, and DFL?

Turns out, before the position was even posted, Anderson was in touch with Rep. Long about the position. Anderson asked Long was to write his own position description and dictate his own hours to align perfectly with when the legislature was not in session. 

Ellen Anderson and Rep Long via Pioneer Press

State Representative Jamie Long, a Democrat lawmaker who represents a district in Minneapolis, got a plumb job at the University of Minnesota. Long was hired as an “energy research project specialist,” at the taxpayer-funded UofM’s Institute on the Environment. Long’s position at the Institute on the Environment was a fellowship funded by an until-recently undisclosed donor to the school.

Long was hired by a former DFL lawmaker, former Sen. Ellen Anderson. And Long also is vice-chair on the Minnesota House climate and energy committee and an assistant majority leader in the House DFL caucus. 

But Long stepped down, and former DFL Sen. Anderson was reassigned by the UofM, after Republican State Representative Chris Swedzinski (R-Ghent) dug into the hiring. 

Turns out, before the position was even posted, Anderson was in touch with Long about the position. Anderson asked Long was to write his own position description and dictate his own hours to align perfectly with when the legislature was not in session. 

“Any information you have about what would be optimal for you would be helpful,” Anderson wrote in an April 1 email to Long, obtained via a public records request. 

In the same email, Anderson appeared to suggest that the secret donor’s money was specifically meant to employ Long while the legislature was not in session. The email mentioned money given “to start a legislative fellows program and hire MN Rep. Jamie Long.” 

According to the Pioneer Press: “The fellowship ultimately paid $33.65 an hour and was funded by a grant the university received on Feb. 27 from a donor whose identity was redacted from school records released to the public.” That would be about $40,000 for seven months of work—a set up that may have violated ethics and campaign finance laws.

In emails, Long said he hoped his position would “debunk right-wing misinformation spread by a local ‘think tank’ about the reliability and cost of renewable energy, fossil fuels, and nuclear.” That refers to the Center of the American Experiment’s Isaac Orr, who correctly testified in the Minnesota House this year that mandating a far-higher level of renewable energy use would increase energy costs and destroy jobs, without having any measurable impact on CO2 emissions (indeed, a large reason America has reduced emissions in the last decade is the increased use of natural gas, a cleaner fossil fuel than is coal, not increased renewable use).   

The McKnight Foundation

Later it emerged that the unknown donor was the McKnight Foundation, named after the former 3M CEO William McKnight. The foundation has over $2 billion in assets, and gives a large amount of its grants to environmental groups. Most of these groups are leftwing, though McKnight also gave a $100,000 grant in 2019 to the R-Street Institute, a center-right think tank. 

Now, DFL House Majority Leader Melissa Hortman says she is looking into the situation. And the McKnight Foundation has said it is working with the UofM to ensure that none of its money goes to Long’s former position. The UofM also said that no taxpayer or private money would fund this position going forward.

Is it possible that the UofM finds itself justifying a position that wouldn’t have been created, but for the intent to hire Long?

Long, meanwhile, defended himself by accusing his critics of attacking climate science. 

The problems with Long’s hiring

There are two basic problems with Long’s hiring. First, the UofM is subsidized by both federal student loans, and by the Minnesota taxpayers. And the legislature may earmark money specifically for the UofM’s Institute on the Environment. 

“I’m sure I voted on the university budget (on the House floor), but I don’t see that as a conflict,” Long said

The other problem is that the McKnight Foundation may have been seeking to influence Long’s actions.

Swedzinski, who said he dug into the issue after an anonymous tip from someone in the know, asked: “My big concern is whether there are any ethical questions, and was this donor money specifically to hire Rep. Long? … I have no clue. Is this person a campaign contributor?” 

But there is a bigger takeaway. 

Even policies related to the environment at the state level have millions and maybe even billions of dollars of implications. No matter what one thinks of these issues, it is inarguable that entire industries stand to benefit financially from increased environmental regulations and green subsidies. 

The left talks a lot about the mean energy companies that financially benefit from de-regulation (as does the consumer) but they always forget to tell you about the other side of that equation. Somebody always stands to benefit.  

In general, Americans would be shocked to learn the full breadth of the incestuous relationship between foundations, non-profits, so-called think-tanks, and government. The left has gotten away with painting the right as being fueled by “big money,” but the truth is that a whole lot of big money is actually on the left. 


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Willis Krumholz
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Willis L. Krumholz is a fellow at Defense Priorities. He holds a JD and MBA degree from the University of St. Thomas, and works in the financial services industry. The views expressed are those of the author only. You can follow Willis on Twitter @WillKrumholz.